The Button

By , Cleveland, OH
It was an August day, a sweltering day to be out and about, and the heat was making the man feel like he was baking in his suit as he approached the underground station. He clopped down the concrete stairs, welcoming the cool breeze and dull roar of the air conditioning vents.

The subway station was small, grey, cool, and damp. Litter gathered in the corners and multihued graffiti decorated the walls. A janitor pains-takingly scraped gum off the far wall. The man's train was not yet here, so he set his suitcase down and slumped against the wall, letting a whoosh of air out from between his red cheeks. It was then he noticed the button.

The button was red. The button was round. The button was attached to the wall on a metal plaque. It had a sign above it. The sign instructed him, in loud, yellow, capital letters, to please;


The man stared at it for a second. He scratched his jowls. He stared at it for a second more. He scratched his jowls again.

"Hmph," he grunted.

He looked over to the far wall. The janitor, who was now cleaning a thick layer of grime from the floor with a push-broom, had not noticed him.

"HMPH," he grunted again, a bit louder.

The janitor still paid him no heed.

The man sighed, having been left no choice as to his next course of action. He straightened his tie.

"Oi!" he called.

The janitor stopped. "Eh?" he said by way of answer, cupping a hand to his ear (he was nearing his pensioner years, and had lost a bit of his hearing along the way).

"Oi!" said the man again, though not sure why. "What does this button here do?"

The janitor, a bit on the crotchety side, hobbled over, and peered at it. "As far as I know, it doesn't do anything, sir."

The man looked a bit puzzled. "Then why does this sign above it say to DO NOT PRESS?"

The janitor scratched his narrow back. "I'm not sure. Those are the rules."

"Well, if it doesn't do anything, surely there's no harm in pressing it."

"I don't think that would be wise," wheezed the janitor.

" does nothing?"


"No, it doesn't, or no, it does?"

"No, it doesn't."

"Then why not press it?"

"Those are the rules."

"That's a silly rule," scoffed the man.

"I don't make the rules, sir," replied the janitor, checking his ire, "I just clean up."

The janitor returned to his broom-work, and the man continued staring at the button. The sign that hung above it, the one that said to DO NOT PRESS, taunted him and teased him with its loud, yellow letters.

Right, decided the man, he was pressing that button. He reached out for it.


It was the janitor. "Just what do you think you're doing?" he said angrily.

"I-nothing, I-nothing," said the man, sheepishly.

"Can't you read the sign there, then?" asked the janitor, waving a knobbly finger at the loud, yellow letters. "DO NOT PRESS, clear as day, right as rain!"

"Well, if the button doesn't do anything in particular," returned the man, "there's no reason not to press it, is there?"

"Nevertheless, those are the rules! Do you intend to obey them and wait for your train, or must I remove you from the establishment?"

"Wha-I-well, I never," blustered the man (although 'establishment' hardly characterized the damp tube station they were standing in now).

"Now don't let me catch you near that button!" warned the old janitor, shaking a small fist. "Or else!"

"Or else what? If the button serves no purpose, it might as well be pressed! It's a button, for God's sake, can't you see that?"

"Now see here," began the janitor, but just then, the man's train chugged into the tunnel, and the man needed to pick up his suitcase and rush to be picked up. The old janitor watched him go, shook his wrinkled head, and went back to mopping. Never, he mused, in all the days he had worked there had someone made such a fuss over a button.

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